Sesili Verdzadze, Head of Innovations at ServiceLab, Ministry of Justice, Georgia

By Chia Jie Lin

Women in GovTech 2018 Special Report.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

I've been leading the Service Lab since 2014. It's a public service innovation laboratory that helps improve public services using innovative tools and new technologies that are available or can be developed throughout the process. We're using that technology to ease the citizens' needs, to support them and provide user-friendly services.

For example, one of the main priorities are the people with disabilities and providing services tailored to their needs. We have been using mobile applications and tools like Skype to improve services for the hearing-impaired.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2018?

Recently, we developed an application for Georgian citizens to use while they're travelling in the EU zone because Georgian citizens can travel up to 90 days in a 180-day period without a visa. But it's quite complicated to calculate the actual days spent in the area, so we developed a mobile application where they can indicate their travel dates to the countries. The application provides then them with accurate information on how many days they have left for visa-free travel, so that they don't violate the rules and regulations imposed on the visa-free travel.

I would say this is exciting, because maybe it's not a very complicated application in terms of the functionality, but it's a very important application for Georgian citizens, because we were granted the visa-free regime only last year, so this tool has been very helpful for many who have started traveling to Europe.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2018, what would it be?

I would say attend to the needs of the citizens, because sometimes people who are in the government - or who have the potential to develop services that they perceive as the right thing to offer to citizens - they don't listen to the citizens. Once they develop the services, citizens don't use it. So I would say that, listen to what citizens need and respond to these needs.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2019?

This year, we had a very exciting event in Georgia which was the lead country for the Open Government Partnership, and in July, we held the OGP Global Summit where representatives from different countries presented.

I participated in one of the sessions that was co-organised by the ServiceLab. It was very interesting for me because we had Sophia the robot. It was very interesting and exciting to have an opportunity to be on the panel with a robot that uses AI to develop the ideas, to participate in the process and to engage in the discussion. I think this was very exciting for me, because we all talk about artificial intelligence and the technologies we're developing, but very few have an actual opportunity to engage with it and experience it themselves.

In general, for me, it's very interesting to learn overall what other innovation labs are doing. What are the trends elsewhere that are evolving with the process that we're doing? Or if there's any new opportunities or technologies that are available so that we can learn more about them and integrate them into our work.
I like to work with different government entities within the country to identify the gaps and needs that they have, and try to offer new services and consultancy, and support the government entities.

We are currently working on social impact bonds which is a very new trend in financing and it hasn't been used in Georgia yet. Very few countries have used it so far. We are experimenting and trying to identify how in Georgia's settings and perspective, we can use these social impact bonds for public financing - both in the financial model and from a legal perspective.
“We are currently working on social impact bonds which is a very new trend in financing.”
From my personal perspective, I really like to travel because it also gives new perspectives to the things that are going on elsewhere. Sometimes, you might be traveling for personal purposes but you might see something that you can bring in and integrate it into your work.

What are your priorities for 2019?

We are currently developing the Unified Public Service Design and Delivery Policy, which will be applied to every government agency in Georgia. One of the priorities in 2019 would be to integrate this policy and actually make it a reality in Georgia.

Looking at trends, innovations and methodologies elsewhere is a constant process for us, rather than being a priority, because we all do it all the time. But the priority would be the integration of the UPSDD policy in government to make it work and have as many agencies comply to it as possible.
The second priority would be to develop services for government entities as well.

What is one skill that has helped you the most throughout the course of your career?

It has been communication skills. When we started the lab in Georgia, this was something very new, very innovative. Especially in the government, not a lot of people supported the idea because they were afraid that the lab would become a platform for many citizens to engage in new things to develop - and usually new things are sometimes affiliated with many risks.

People were not sure; can we do this or not? I would say that one of my strengths and skills would be communication and persuasion. Every time we developed a new idea or methodology, I tried to persuade the decision makers and I have been very successful at it.

I'm also very flexible and I like to adjust the projects the way it’s needed. So I'm very open to these things. Sometimes, we might start an initiative but it might not work the way we thought it would. So I'm always open to these changes, new ideas, new innovations and new technologies to put in during the development process.

What advancements do you predict will happen in your field in the next 10 years?

It's very difficult to say because the world has been developing. I might say something right now that I can imagine in 10 years, but it could actually happen next year.

I've just come from the Istanbul Innovation Days organised by the UNDP Regional Hub in Istanbul, where this was actually one of the topics. The theme of the conference was the next generation governance, and preparing governments for the upcoming challenges.

It was just amazing how we can prepare for the future. But I actually had the feeling that the future is already here. We're all looking up to the few cities that are smart and using new technologies as role models. But I think in the next 10 years, every city will become smart and will be technology-based. I think more and more services, up to 90% of the services will be conducted online. And all the businesses will be conducted online, without the need for physical interaction.

Coffee, yoga, music… what powers you through your day?

Coffee is the priority, that's for sure. I usually like to exercise at the end of the day. This helps me to reflect on the things that I've done during the day and also to boost my energy for the next day.

So I would say, the coffee in the morning, and a good workout in the evening.